Birthdays: Candles and Kids

 Today I learned:

1. Birthday candles: I always wondered at what age people give up trying to add the correct number of candles to your birthday cake. Today I learned that age is 37, and there is a very simple reason for it: Economics.

Everything up to 36 requires only one box of candles. It costs the same to decorate a cake for my 2 year as it does for my 4 year old, or for that matter for my wife.

But not for me.

As of today I am officially a 2 box’er.  In a monetary sense at least it just isn’t worth it.

2. Kids: Sitting at the table tonight eating a 36-candle cake (lovingly made by my wife and kids) it occured to me that I enjoy my birthday now far more than I did a few years ago. You might expect that the reverse would be true. I am getting to an age where people start to worry about the number, but that doesn’t bother me. 37 is no worse to me than 35 or even 25 as far as I am concerned.

It is more that before kids I just didn’t pay much attention to birthdays. Now I can’t avoid them. At any moment in time the kids can spout off the next three birthdays in our extended family, and the number of sleeps to the next one. They love birthdays and a celebration is required. What I saw as just another day is to them a very, very big day. I don’t think they could even comprehend the possibility that I might not have agreed with them.

I think a lot of adults are like me. We go on day by day and don’t pay much attention to things like our birthday. Not everyone is like that though – I work with a few people that take a vacation day on their birthday every year.  I always considered it kind of silly – why waste vacation day on a rainy Tuesday in November? -I am now just starting to get it. My kids have helped teach me that I need to rethink my position.  It can be a good day, and if I want it can be a great day.

Why not?

Time to open a nice bottle of wine.

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Parenting: Blueberry Yogurt and The Power of Suggestion

Today I learned:

1.  Blueberry Yogurt: My kids love yogurt. We have to buy in bulk to keep up with their appetites.  They go through strawberry, vanilla and raspberry at an insatiable pace.

The problem is bulk packs all come with 25% blueberry flavour.They love blueberries but they hate blueberry yogurt.

Faced with an ever growing stash of the stuff I have two options: Eat it or waste it.

I just can’t bring myself to throw it out, so day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt. I love blueberries and there was a time in my life that a nice bowl of blueberry yogurt was appealing. That time has passed. At this point I hate the stuff. Can’t stand it. But day after day I eat more blueberry yogurt.

It occurred to me today, as I choked down another spoonful at breakfast, that life as a dad can be summed up in a bowl of blueberry yogurt:  Ultimately what is in their bowls is more important to me than what is in mine. I know I am not alone in martyrdom.  At my brother’s place it’s the leftover food. I haven’t seen the guy eat an entire meal from his own plate in 8 years. I think he feeds himself entirely off leftover scraps on the plates of his 4 kids. That’s life. We’re dads. That just what we do.

2. The Power of Suggestion: As I peered into my daughter’s dresser this morning to help her pick out clothes I noticed something odd in the corner of the drawer. Odd but not unexpected. With two little kids you learn that something odd is always going to be there. I actually check spots like this frequently to reclaim items like the whisk, TV remote or one of my shoes.

With today’s find I just couldn’t resist the overwhelming desire to mess with the kid.

Casually I laid out her clothes – pink socks, monkey shirt, striped pants – all typical 4 year-old garb. On top of the pile I added the piece de resistance: Ski Goggles.

She looked at me a little funny, but she didn’t say anything. She certainly didn’t object. The goggles actually went on first, making it tough to execute the shirt phase in our daily dressing drama, and 2 minutes later she was at the table laughing, sucking back yogurt and just generally looking at life through rose-coloured goggles. When I left for work she was still wearing them.

My wife walked her to daycare and apparently she was pleased to have them on – they kept the rain out of her eyes. The kid was still wearing them when my wife left for work too.

8.5 hours later when we returned to pick her up? Still on.

It all got me thinking about the impact we can have on our kids, and potentially on just about anyone, with just a subtle suggestion. I didn’t ask her to wear the goggles. I just put the idea in her head and she ran with it. She got to be the centre of attention. People around her got a smile or two. Everybody is happy. Win-win.

The power of suggestion is huge with little ones. Kids run with whatever tools you give them. Leave a few sheets of paper and some crayons on the table and within minutes you will find them drawing. If we leave out cookies they will eat them. Put out grapes instead and they will be gone, no questions asked. We can get them to do pretty much anything. Except eat blueberry yogurt.


A Milestone Day – Reflections on Day 66 and Next Steps for the Two Things Blog

When I kicked off the two things project I set a simple goal: Learn two things a day and blog about them for 66 straight days.

This post marks my achievement of that goal. To celebrate the accomplishment, for today only, I will go past my usual two things to reflect on what I have learned from the experience and to discuss next steps for this blog.

Today I learned:

http://atabsh.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/lessons-learned.jpg

1. Be Consistent: Practice, practice, practice. I am not saying practice made me perfect, but it made me better. Looking at my early posts, one thing is clear. I wasn’t very good. With practice, I feel like I got better, or at the very least I got more confident. This led me to take more risks in my writing and at the very least helped me feel better about what I was doing.

2. Be Experimental: The most fun I had came out of trying new things.  Throwing Smurf into a conversation and finding enlightenment in the Honey Badger are just two of the things I would not have done without the blog experiment. As well, Email Free Day, The Streaming Diet and The Helping List have all improved my life in some small way.  Life gets better when you take a few risks and try new things.

3. Be an Artist: I didn’t need to buy brushes and an easel to create art, and the energy that flowed out of committing to create something new from nothing everyday felt amazing.

My behaviour also changed unexpected ways. One impact was in how I consume things.  After two months of blogging, Facebook is basically dead to me. It’s an exaggeration of course, but there is an aspect of truth to it. My consumption of media has shifted 180 degrees, moving away from passive sources and on to more active or creative forms. I was a classic Facebook lurker, visiting the site 3 to 5 times a day for several minutes just to see what other people were up to. Now I rarely visit the site – 1 to 2 times per week at most – and typically to communicate with a friend through messaging services. Instead, I now spend my internet-time reviewing sites that inspire learning and creativity.

4. Be fearless: This is easier said than done, and in truth it was an unintended result rather than an initial goal. When I launched the blog I was clearly fearful, and the emotion did not dissipate quickly. In fact, when it disappeared on day 24 I made a note of it. It was then that I realized my self-talk had shifted from “What am I going to write about today?” to “What do I get to write about today?” My post that day focussed on emotion, and at that point I finally felt fearless. Day 24 was also the first time I got up the courage to “publicize” what I was doing to people I actually know too – that is when I first referenced the blog on my personal twitter account (@darrenmcknight) and put up a link on my personal website (darrenmcknight.com).  The lesson for me?  Do something 23 times and it will finally get easier.

5. Be present: Learning facts is easy but the best lessons I learned came from listening to family, kidsfriends, colleagues and even strangers.

At the outset I found I immediately listened more closely. This in itself was a good thing, but my motivation initially wrong. At first I was trying to find a “nugget” in my conversations that I could write about. Eventually this faded away and I simply felt more engaged.  Once I stopped looking for things to learn it was easy to focus on just listening. That’s when I started to find true nuggets.

All in all, this was a planned exercise in introspection and from my perspective it has gone very, very well. So well in fact that, goal accomplished, it is time to change things up a bit…

What’s next for two things I learned today?

The journey is not over, but the pace of blog posts is changing. I will still endeavour to learn and record two things every day, but from here on out I only plan to post a new blog piece when I feel the lessons learned contain ideas that are so “big” in my journey that I should share them with the world.

How often will that be? I really have no idea, and you will notice that I make no attempt to define “big.”

I will say this though: I have thoroughly enjoyed the self-reflection and creative outlet this blog has added to my life. With that in mind, some days big might be huge and some days it might be pretty small.  Hopefully, at least, big will be entertaining…


Tears and “The Helping List”

Today I learned:

1. Tears: In addition to certain episodes of MASH, as well as the odd good news story by Global TV’s Mike McCardell, I am not above shedding a tear at my little girls’ first dance recital.

2. The Helping List: As my surgical recovery continues I am still stuck on crutches, meaning my ability to carry things remains significantly impaired. Our 4-year old has really stepped up to the plate as “daddy’s little helper,” completing all sorts of tasks she would not normally take on.  She has done this willingly, and she is very proud of herself for being able to help out.

The other night at bed time we sat down and reviewed all the things she had done to help out that day. As we talked, I wrote out “The Helping List” on a piece of paper. Even though she can’t read yet she was absolutely beaming as the list grew longer. This has continued for a couple days, and she is now excited about trying to do more and more to add to her list.

The thing to keep in mind here is this: Other than hugs and encouragement I have offered no reward. She doesn’t get anything tangible for all the help. The only thing she gets is the list itself, and how it makes her feel.

This got me thinking about how I interact with other people, and how helpful I am to family, friends, colleagues and strangers throughout the day.

If I knew I would be sitting down at the end of the day with someone to recap and write down all the good things I had done for other people throughout the day, would it change my behaviour?  I’d love to say no – I am perfect already – but obviously that is completely false. There is no question it would change my behaviour, and there is no question it would make both my life and the lives of others better. The only question then, is why not do it?


I’ll Never Be a Wine Writer plus Raising Successful Kids

Today I learned:

1. I’ll never be a wine writer:  I fancy myself as a bit of an oenophile – my expertise may be questionable, but it is improving and I at least approach the subject with a relentless enthusiasm to which the empties in my garage can attest.

That is why I am saddened to admit I would never make it as a wine writer.

This lesson hit me today, like the feeling you get after quaffing too much (or really any) Yellowtail,  as I read this month’s edition of Ask an Oenophile in BC Business Magazine. One quote sealed it for me:

Everybody should drink more Beaujolais. It’s romantic, it’s sexy, it’s lyrical, it’s ethereal. Really good Beaujolais smells like you just made out with your first love in a field of fresh strawberries – there’s a smell of wet earth, a little sweat, ripe strawberries…This wine, especially the 2009 vintage, has this incredible Audrey Hepburn character. It’s lithe, but there is this enormous charm and depth behind it all. 

I can’t talk like that.

More precisely, I won’t talk like that.

I could learn, but I need to be able to enjoy a nice bottle of Syrah and then respect myself in the morning.

2. Raising Successful Kids: I came across a thought-provoking blog post today about 5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children (link below).

Several interesting points are made – I think there could be merit to the concept of giving incentive to learn from the masters. I particularly like one of the responses to the post which included a suggestion kids could learn alot from Ted videos. This seems like a viable way to introduce new ideas and it may be worthy of experimentation with our oldest daughter. With the recent explosion of TedxKids events, I expect age appropriate content may be more and more available, making this idea quite tangible.

The point I really keyed in on though was the final one in the article – teach kids to be powerful.

This led me to reflect on our approach to parenting. As the author recommends, we try to avoid any form of negative self-talk. We encourage the kids to avoid expressing actions in terms of accomplishment (i.e. “I am good at riding my bike,” or “I can’t tie my shoes.”) and instead we ask them to frame everything around the idea of practice. The thought is that this will ensure our kids understand that if they set a goal and then put in the time and effort, eventually they will be able to do whatever they want.

For example, when my daughter learned to stand up on skates, we congratulated her and then we talked about how the first time she tried she was not able to get up, but she practiced (by doing x, y, and z) and she gradually got better, to the point she was able to do it by herself. The idea is to re-enforce the concept that it doesn’t matter what you can or can’t do, it only matters what you are willing to put the time in to learn.

Thinking back now, this approach seems to be working.

Our oldest daughter now tends to frame her comments around the process of learning as the accomplishment, rather than the activity itself. We don’t hear things like, “Mommy, I cut my fish!” but rather she says “Mommy, I learned to use my knife!”  Hopefully in the long run this type of framing goes a long way to helping our kids understand that setting goals and practicing will allow them to do anything they want.

Link to the original blog post referenced above: 5 Unusual Ways to Raise Successful Children.


My kid sucks at hide and seek, plus “They kill you a little bit everyday.”

Today I learned:

1. My kid sucks at hide and seek: My four year old can do simple math, including multiplication and division. She can sound out and read basic words. She can swim, skate and ride a bike. But if you play hide and seek with her you will be most likely to find her writhing like a fish out of water under a blanket in the middle of our living room. Best case, maybe she’ll be under the table, yelling “come find me – he he he.” Regardless, the next time she just goes back to exactly the same spot. And the time after that? Same spot.

Surprisingly, according the the fine people at the Lego Learning Institute, my kid is on track. At least for now, anyway. She better learn to hide by age 5 though or we are going to need to write her off.

I must admit that even after a bit of research I am having trouble selling myself on the fact everything is normal. The next time I see her hiding half covered under a pillow on top of her bed I may need a reminder.

Full disclosure: Louis C.K. has a great bit on this topic. Google the clip – it’s no stretch to call the video I found offensive to some viewers so no link here.

2. “They kill you a little bit everyday”: This quote comes from a friend we ran into while taking the kids swimming today. After a morning of fits over unfinished oatmeal and a full on battle to have the 2 year old stay put on the potty, it certainly rang true.

It made me think though, is it correct?

It turns out no. At least not if you are Norwegian anyway. Research there has shown mortality rates are highest among those with no kids, and rank second for people with only one child. The research doesn’t spell it out but I can’t imagine that inverse relationship holds true very long long. I doubt 8 kids helps you live longer than 4. Eventually another relationship – the one between the number of kids you have and how many glasses of wine you want at night – is going to get you.